When chef Eric Brown moved back to the area last fall, he had no idea he’d be hosting a pop-up dinner in Providence just four days later. But with his mattress still on the floor, a call for guest chefs had him unpacking his knives and plates sooner than expected. Now, under the moniker of Thick Neck, you can get a taste of his fine coastal New England fare every week at The Dean Hotel.
Brown is no stranger to Providence. While attending Johnson & Wales, he gained some of his early experience in fine dining here. Looking for a fresh scene after college and searching for more fine dining opportunities, he moved to Chicago to work in Michelin star kitchens.
After three or four years in a few different restaurants, Brown started doing his own pop-up dinners. Soon after, he got a call from the owners of Saint Emeric, a “secret restaurant” in Chicago’s Logan Square. The building was once a church, built in 1880, but had been converted to a residential property. In hopes of keeping the space accessible to the community, the owners opened a speakeasy-style dining venue in the basement.
After one impressive meal, Brown was brought on to help run the operation. “Once we really caught our stride,” Brown says, “the format was three serves a week – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – with only 12 guests per night. It was BYOB with a blind, eight to 10-course chef’s tasting menu. Customers didn’t know the address or what they were having until three days before.”
Three years later, after a sold-out summer at Saint Emeric, Brown and his fiance decided to move back to New England to be near family. While Brown was on the lookout for his next fine dining venture, he didn’t expect to plug back into the Providence culinary scene so quickly. At The Dean, Brown and colleague Justin Friedman work together to run Thick Neck, which you can find every Friday, Saturday, and Monday at The Dean Hotel. Their dinner is offered alongside The Dean Bar team who curate the beverage list.
Thick Neck’s menu stays around 10 items, with three to five new items incorporated every week. While they serve an occasional meat dish, more often than not, the menu is pescatarian. Ingredients are sourced locally as much as possible. “One really fortunate thing about cooking in Providence,” Brown says, “is the accessibility to farms and farmers that are willing to deliver to your doorstep. We work a lot with Wishing Stone Farm and White Barn Farm. We’re still working to build connections with fishermen and fish purveyors. We source coastal and Point Judith seafood.” Thick Neck also features a rave-worthy cheese selection from Sweet and Salty Farm in Little Compton, which Brown calls a “tiny farm making perfect cheese.”
Brown’s goal is to serve high-quality, integrity-driven food in an approachable, sharable way. “Right now we’re taking the intent and the creative elements that go into a fine dining meal and dressing it down into nice, shareable, approachable dishes,” he says. One favorite is the Creamed Beans, a light bean stew with muscles, kohlrabi, and Japanese chili paste. Another is the Spaghetti Squash Salad, which Brown says is by leaps and bounds one of his favorites from his time at Saint Emeric. The dish features lightly roasted spaghetti squash dressed in a creamy vinaigrette made from burnt pumpkin seeds. It’s topped with dried parsley and fermented squash powder.
With beloved restaurants like Chez Pascal, big king, and north closed, Brown says the Providence food scene is in a transitional period, with a lot of room for upcoming chefs, talents, and concepts. For him, it’s an exciting time to be cooking in Providence on his own terms. He looks forward to seeing what buds in the city in the next couple of years, and hopes a permanent home for Thick Neck will be part of that future.
Follow @eat_thickneck on Instagram for menus.
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